A DALLAS SEMINARY BOARD MEMBER WHO LOST HIS SON LAST YEAR IS OFTEN HEARD to say, "Take the long view." The apostle Peter wrote, “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pet. 4:12–13). Every Christian has stories of difficulty, but we also have testimonies of inexplainable peace.
HOPE DURING PERSECUTION
After rolling triumphantly through Havana on a tank in 1959, Fidel Castro slashed religious freedom in Cuba. In 1965, just six years later, Castro’s regime arrested fifty-three pastors and two American missionaries, charged them with crimes against the State, and sentenced them to serve between two and thirty years in prison. That same year scores of other pastors and most seminarians were drafted into forced-labor camps because of their faith and witness. Their persecution held as they continued to profess Christ and minister in His name.
After their releases Dr. Galen Jacobs* (ThM, 1984) spent months interviewing and gleaning wisdom from these persecuted leaders.
“They are living examples of the kind of faith the apostle Peter described in his first letter,” Jacobs said. “Peter assured the first-century believers that their trials were not a strange surprise, but rather a reason to rejoice in the present—for the honor of participating in Christ’s sufferings—and to count on being overjoyed in the future when God’s glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:12–13).
Jacobs’s conclusions from his interviews with persecuted Christians in Cuba exactly paralleled the research of international persecution expert Nik Ripken, who discovered eleven characteristics of Christians who have remained faithful during persecution. He concluded that those who persevere:
know the power of prayer and fasting.
can recite large portions of the Bible by memory.
know large amounts of their “heart music” by memory.
know people are praying for them.
know the local believing community is caring for their family.
know that their suffering is for Jesus’ sake.
know their persecution is normal.
have claimed their freedom.
have lost their fear.
have a heritage of faith.
Are you seeking these characteristics for yourself and those you love as you serve and suffer in Jesus’ name? As Peter concludes, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Pet. 4:19).
JOY AFTER ENDURANCE
DTS’s first Media Arts graduate, Naima Lett, was Nurse Carol in Lifetime Television’s original movie “Living Proof,” starring Harry Connick Jr. as Dr. Dennis Slamon, a doctor who devotes his life to finding a treatment for breast cancer. About filming, Naima says, “It was such a privilege to work on this kind of movie that inspires and gives hope while celebrating those who have committed their lives to finding cures for cancer as well as those who are fighting to survive every day. Because of all that [my husband and I have] personally been through with cancer, the story really hit home. I was grateful to be a small part of this amazing cast and story. It’s uplifting.”
PERSPECTIVE IN A TIME OF DIFFICULTY
The diagnosis of cancer came on Beverlee Warren’s voicemail as she and her husband sat at a Seminary luncheon. Her husband, Dr. Timothy Warren, has served as a professor in Pastoral Ministries at DTS for twenty-five years. As the Warrens are walking through her treatment, they’re relying on God’s faithfulness as they have in the thirty-eight years they’ve been married.
As Beverlee faced the genesis of her cancer journey, she said, “This is in God’s hands . . . I’m not going to worry.” Since then she has faced three protocols of chemotherapy, two surgeries, and a round of radiation. “I have known Beverlee a long time, and I know how strong she is,” said Dr. Warren, “but she has surprised me all over again with her strength and tenacity.”
In addition to their five children several communities have surrounded the Warrens, including their church, Beverlee’s work, and the Seminary.
In the midst of this path they’ve seen God’s constancy. “Whether Beverlee continues to respond positively to treatment, whether the treatment fails and she struggles, God is and will be faithful,” said Dr. Warren. “God’s perspective is so much greater than ours.”
You can view Dr. Warren’s DTS chapel message “Why Do We Suffer?” at www.dts.edu/media/chapel.
GOD'S CONTROL IN SUFFERING
Before dawn on March 1, 2008, two young men broke into Terry Caffey’s home in Emory, Texas. They shot Terry and killed his wife, Penney, and then went upstairs and murdered the Caffeys’ two young sons, Bubba and Tyler. They then set fire to the house and left the family for dead. Although shot five times, Terry escaped through the bathroom window and crawled three hundred yards to a neighbor’s house. To make matters worse, Terry’s daughter Erin was implicated in the crime. Overnight Terry Caffey lost his entire family.
A few months later Terry returned to his property. The remains of the house had been bulldozed, and little was left. Unable to understand why God had taken his family and allowed him to survive, Terry cried out to God, asking, “Why did you take my family? Why didn’t you take me, too? I don’t understand.”
As he stood there, Terry noticed a scrap of paper stuck to the trunk of a nearby tree. He went over and picked it up. The paper was part of a page from the novel, Blind Sight, written by Jim Pence (MA[BS], 2002), who received writing training at DTS before launching his freelance career. The edges of the page were scorched and it was difficult to read, but the words struck Terry as being like a direct message from God. The viewpoint character in the portion Terry found was Thomas Kent, a man who lost his wife and children in an auto accident that he survived. After the accident Kent met a woman, Justine, who along with her children needed his help. Here’s the portion that Terry found perched against the tree:
"‘I couldn’t understand why You would take my family and leave me behind to struggle along without them. And I guess I still don’t totally understand that part of it. But I do believe that You’re sovereign; You’re in control.’
“Justine’s voice reverberated through his thoughts: 'Maybe God knew we needed you.'
"And I know that You’ve brought Justine and those children into my life. And they need me. Lord, You could have taken my life that day, but You spared it. And You’ve gone on sparing it. It doesn’t matter what happens to me now, but if I can help them, please let me do it.’
“Thomas closed the drapes and stood alone in the dark room. For the first time in two years, he was at peace with God and with himself. He knew what he had to do. Justine and her children would be safe, even if he had to die to make sure of it.”
In those paragraphs Terry found the strength to go on. Now he shares his testimony in churches across the country. When he speaks, he brings the page from Jim’s novel, now preserved in a frame. Because the page was only partially preserved, Terry didn’t know what book it had come from until December. One morning when he spoke at a Greenville, Texas, church, Jim Pence’s daughter was present in the congregation. She and the pastor’s wife both recognized the quotation as having come from Blind Sight.
That very afternoon Terry called and told Jim his story. “Tears streamed down my face as I listened,” Jim said. “Not only had the house burned, but the site had been long since cleaned up and the debris bulldozed and hauled off. What little material was left had been exposed to the weather for months. And out of a nearly four-hundred-page book, the only scrap that remained was a brief passage where a man who had lost a wife and two children came to grips with the sovereign goodness of God, submitted to His will, and decided to move forward.
“That scrap of paper lay there against a tree trunk as if waiting for Terry Caffey—a man who had lost his wife and two sons, a man who was in deep despair and who had contemplated suicide, a man who desperately needed to come to grips with the sovereignty and mercy of God.” Since that time Terry and Jim have met face to face.
“Needless to say, I am deeply humbled to have been the one who wrote the words that God chose to use,” Jim said. “After hearing this story, even if I never sell another book, I’ll feel fulfilled as a writer. What an incredible, awesome God we serve!”
*Not his real name.